Sunday, June 10, 2007

Surf's Up: A truly weird wave

About halfway through "Surf's Up," I started to ask myself (as I have a feeling Sony Pictures animation executives will too), "just who in the world was this movie intended for?"

Granted, the first 10 minutes are very inspired. Though they throw out the words "reality TV" in an attempt to create some connection with the tikes, it's really a tribute to classic surfing documentaries like "Endless Summer" and newer ones like "Riding Giants." Filmed in a scratchy style and imbued with all the wave worship that makes those movies so oddly enjoyable, it's just surprisingly cool.

As I watched this, however, and laughed out loud several times, I couldn't help notice that none of the kids were along for the ride. And from there on out, except for one joke about Big Z (voice of Jeff Bridges) pissing on the foot of Cody (Shia LaBeouf), there wasn't much that illicited laughs from the younguns in the rest of it either.

The story is, of course, about penguins again, but not any like you've seen before. Young Cody is a fish sorter (a very funny gag) in Shiverpool, Antarctica, who just wants to surf. He manages to finagle his way into the Big Z Memorial surfing tournament, named for the former surfing great who (everyone thinks) died in a surfing accident 10 years ago. Cody eventually stumbles upon Big Z, who has actually been hiding all those years, and a sort of "Karate Kid"-goes-to-the-beach vibe develops.

And I think the beach is the big problem here. It's an elaborately constructed CGI world, and it feels as real as such a thing possibly can. However, our young hero Cody and especially his mentor Big Z have bought into the beach life, and therefore it's a mellow vibe from the outset, with little energy or spirit to hold your attention.

As for the voices, Jeff Bridges fares the best, essentially playing "The Dude" with feathers (but again, what kid's gonna get that?) Shia Labeouf and Zooey Deschanel, as Big Z's neice and the beach lifeguard Lani, are really just reading the script out loud, and surely getting paid handsomely for it. Jon Heder, as goofy surfer Chicken Joe, clearly had fun with this, though, as did James Woods as the surfing-promoter porcupine Reggie Belafonte.

In the end, comparing this to another CGI-animation movie I just adored, "Over the Hedge," I'd have to call "Surf's Up" a noble failure. "OTH" just had so much more life to it than this one. The best thing I can say about it is that it's odd enough that we've hopefully come to the end of penguin movies for a while, and for that at least we should say thanks.


bill said...

I agree with almost everything you said, but enjoyed it much more than you did. I thought it had a lot more energy than you did and really seemed to capture the vibe of recent surf documentaries. I think being familiar with those would help, but plenty of kids were laughing when we saw it. I don't watch reality TV and despite thoughts that part would annoy me, it didn't--felt much more like a documentary than reality TV.

Nowadays, I see more kids movies than I'd care to and I'd say this is one of the better ones. Decent story, interesting characters, and a low percentage of slapstick dialogue with overused hip cultural references. And those CGI waves looked totally real...dude...uh, sorry.

Thoroughly enjoyed watching this and the soundtrack was great. Did you stick around through the credits to hear Jeff Bridges sing?

Probably chalk this up to a difference in taste as I thought "Over the Hedge" was lifeless and dull. Just more crappy animation pandering for cheap laughs from the kids.

I think in asking "who is this movie intended for" we're really looking at the lowered expectations we have with movies for kids. With things like OTH and even worse abominations like "Robots," we're used to goofy characters and flashing lights to occupy the kiddies for an hour or so. "Surf's Up" could easily have fallen into after-school movie territory, but had enough wit and talent to be fun. My kid liked it, which is good. I enjoyed it, which is better.

Though I see his/her name a lot, I have no idea who Shia Labeouf is. Sounds like a French punk band.

Reel Fanatic said...

You may be right that I'm lowering my expectations for animated fare, and not having kids of my own I probably underestimate how much they can comprehend and enjoy ... I stand by my affection for Over the Hedge, though ... The worst animated movie I've seen in recent years was "Chicken Little," which was just one of the stupidest movies I've ever seen that was aimed at kids

Divinity said...

Animated films have become a bit of a grey zone for me. Often the trailers/concept have to make a great first impression to interest me. And I'll admit that I tend to like my animated films on a more "simple" level which is probably why I enjoyed Shrek the Third and disliked The Incredibles. I guess the kid in me doesn't like to have to think too hard. I also enjoyed Over the Hedge a lot (and not only because I have a friend named RJ who used to hoard food and whose younger brother is Hammy without the tail). Surf's Up probably won't get my money but I have high hopes for Ratatoille and The Bee Movie.
My review for Once is up now, btw :)

Reel Fanatic said...

I'll definitely stop by to check that out as soon as I get a chance, Divinity ... I don't know why I continue to hold out so much hope for animated movies when the evidence, as you pointed out, is that they more and more just continue to look the same ... I definitely have high hopes for "Ratatouille" too, and I'll give "Bee Season" a chance out of respect for Jerry Seinfeld.